Here in Nigeria, FIFA has become a monster. The fear of the global football organization is the beginning of wisdom.
There are three things that panic the Nigerian in almost equal measure – Boko Haram, Ebola virus, and FIFA!
Whereas the first two are linked with carnage and loss of lives, the third is about fear, anxiety, humiliation and frustration.
It is the third that interests us here. So bad now is the situation that whenever FIFA ‘sneezes’ the entire country of some 180 million Black and proud Africans catches cold.
The worst part is that even the Nigerian media are caught up in this macabre dance with FIFA. The media escalate the people’s dread with their own uninformed or biased reportage!
Every four years Nigerians quiver in the fear of FIFA’s reaction to their own action. What should ordinarily be a simple act, a straightforward election process into the board of the Nigeria Football Federation amongst a group of ordinary Nigerians mostly with little direct stake in the game of football in the country, suddenly degenerates into a convoluted, incomprehensible conundrum.
It is only when crisis erupts from the process like a volcano and disrupts the peace of the entire country that people start to ask: what exactly is the problem? No one seems to know, sometimes not even most of the actors in this boardroom drama.
The level of ignorance about the issues in contention is so high that, except for the few puppeteers and manipulators railroading everyone down the path of their narrow interest, the rest of the country becomes helpless pawns in this orchestrated political ‘game’ that only few understand.
Everyone else is shut out from the rigmarole; the public are not involved, the law courts are barred, or their decisions ignominiously disregarded, security agencies are handicapped, and government’s involvement is an anathema.
What contraption on earth can be so powerful as to render an entire country’s devices and actions impotent?
To ‘save’ Nigeria from FIFA the country must throw its sovereignty, its laws, its security interests and its values to the dogs, and it must embrace humiliation, impunity, injustice, corruption and discredited persons.
To now imagine that all of this is about an election that should be simple and straightforward, and that should produce a leadership that will develop the people’s sport and passion and unite the country. The failure to achieve this simple objective is confounding and annoying!
How can a simple election into the board of an agency of government established by law, funded almost entirely by government and run by a handful of ordinary Nigerians, become such a convoluted, confusing process that brings the entire country to its knees in submission to the whims of a few persons that have now mastered how to control the electoral process through the dubious invocation of the name of FIFA once every four years, at election time?
FIFA never comes into the picture or our consciousness as a monster on all other matters except during the elections. There is something fishy and mischievous about it all!!
So, where do the people who hold the whole country hostage to their selfish and private devices get the power to disregard constituted authority, to be answerable to no one, to commit what are heinous crimes and get away with them from?
And then to realize that this only happens in a few African countries out of the over 200 members of the global football family, is indeed shameful.
Some things obviously do not add up. Something is wrong with the system and the process.
In the past ten years since major changes were introduced into the Nigerian electoral process by the Ibrahim Galadima-led board in 2004, elections into the board have become disruptive, an international humiliation and detrimental to the progress of Nigerian football.
Two times since then, in 2006 and 2010, Nigeria has been stampeded (by the invocation of a suspension by FIFA) to go down the road of infamy, and to embrace the worst forms of an electoral process that brings nothing but confusion and ridicule to the country. We have continued along that path since then.
The present crisis, the worst in the history of Nigerian football, is already also going down that same route. It must be made the last. It must be converted into an opportunity to fix the things that have been wrong, to look microscopically again at the contending issues and to work out a simple. practical formula and structure that will halt this international 4-yearly disgrace of Nigeria.
FIFA are tired of the Nigerian situation and have said so several times. They would rather we did not bring them into our problems and resolve our problems ourselves, after all we are an independent body that must not suffer third party interference including from FIFA itself.
Unlike on previous occasions when we allowed the threat of suspension by FIFA to stampede us into doing ignoble things and embracing values that do not reflect the best of who we are, and creating unwanted tension and humiliation that create unwanted results, this time around the country must take its time and fix the problems once and for all.
That should be our appeal to FIFA – to give us the breathing space to resolve our internal issues ourselves, in our own way and time, but mindful of FIFA’s basic principles.
The image of FIFA created by the Nigerian media particularly and ‘bought’ by Nigerians is that of a stern butcher with an axe in hand, interested enough in the football activities in Nigeria to dangle the axe over the country ready to chop off its head any time it gets out of line of a football grail that no one else except FIFA knows and interprets.
Some local ambitious football administrators, therefore, use their better understanding of the psyche of Nigerians, of our fear of FIFA, of the fuzzy electoral system, of their relationship with some low-cadre staff in the FIFA secretariat, and the ignorance of the Nigerian media on the finer issues of how FIFA operates, to attempt to control Nigerian football.
It is balderdash.
In reality FIFA are really not interested in Nigeria’s internal affairs until the NFF board or a member drags them into it. FIFA, of course, would always react in order to protect its interests and members.
FIFA know that the NFF has always been an agency of the Federal Government. It knows that the NFA Act 101 exists. It knows that Government funds the secretariat of the Federation and all competitions. In almost 60 years of this knowledge it has not suspended Nigeria for this breach of involving government in NFF affairs. Why?
It is Nigeria’s internal matter and provided it works for the country and does not affect the operations of FIFA, life can go on.
Another example is of the NFF itself that usurped the power of club owners and established new football structures alien to global football practice. None of these things have attracted FIFA’s intervention or wrath or sanction. Why? Because these are Nigeria’s exclusive internal affairs to which FIFA swears no interference.
So, why would FIFA be interested in the local elections into the NFF board? Why should we be reduced to a bungling bunch of school kids as a result?
If we did not invite FIFA to interfere, Nigeria itself would ‘collapse’ and FIFA would not even miss a beat or a step!
In short, Nigerian football officials have brought this umbrage upon the country in order to gain an advantage in their selfish pursuit of power.
Taking the internal affairs of an agency of government to the international arena must be ‘criminalized’. Until the law establishing the NFF is abrogated and expunged from our law books and the NFF becomes a totally private body, any persons running it must be barred from taking government, and by extension the Nigerian people, before an international ‘court’ to achieve their selfish and private objectives. Such persons should be barred from holding public offices.
At the moment the whole country is frozen in dread. FIFA, the monster, is lurking in wait to clamp down on Nigeria because of a faulty electoral process that can be fixed internally without the menacing threat of a sanction by FIFA.
Nigeria must seize the opportunity of the present crisis to redesign the process of elections into the board of the NFF. It is the one matter that continues to disrupt Nigerian football every four years. The country must not be stampeded into a fire-brigade remedy that will only postpone what is obviously wrong for another four years.
This long night shall soon pass. I see a very bright future ahead when the stable will be cleaned of all those that will rather the whole country suffer than for them not to control Nigerian football.